MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Organisations



The Knights of Labor

The Knights of Labor were founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by Uriah Stevens and six other taylors in 1869. They began initially as a secret society structured after Free Masonry with the goal of promoting the organization of working people. The Knights rose to national prominence in the 1880’s under the leadership of Terence V. Powderly, ” General Master Workman” of the Knights of Labor for a period of 14 years which saw the end of secrecy in 1881 and the growth of the labor union from 10,000 workers to over a million by 1886. At that time the membership consisted of 50,000 African American workers and 10,000 women workers.

Preamble of the Knights of Labor

The alarming development and aggressiveness of great capitalists and corporations, unless checked, will inevitably lead to the pauperization and hopeless degradation of the toiling masses. It is imperative, if we desire to enjoy the full blessings of life, that a check be placed upon unjust accumulation, and the power for evil of aggregated wealth. This much-desired object can be accomplished only by the united efforts of those who obey the divine injunction, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.”

Therefore we have formed the Order of the Knights of Labor, for the purpose of organizing and directing the power of the industrial masses, not as a political party, for it is more -- in it are crystalized sentiments and measures for the benefit of the whole people, but it should be borne in mind, when exercising the right of suffrage, that most of the objects herein set forth can only be obtained through legislation, and that it is the duty of all to assist in nominating and supporting with their votes only such candidates as will pledge their support to these measures, regardless of party. But no one shall, however, be compelled to vote with the majority, and calling upon all who believe in securing the greatest good to the greatest number, to join and assist us.

Declaration of Principles

We declare to the world that our aims are:

1. To make industrial and moral worth, not wealth, the true standard of individual and national greatness.

2. To secure to the worker the full enjoyment of the wealth they create, sufficient leisure in which to develop their intellectual, moral and social faculties; all of the benefits, recreation and pleasures of association; in a word, to enable them to share in the gains and honors of advancing civilization.

In order to secure these results we demand of the State:

3. The establishment of bureaus of labor statistics, that we may arrive at a correct knowledge of the educational, moral, and financial condition of the laboring masses.

4. That the public lands, the heritage of the people, be reserved for actual settlers; not another acre for railroads or speculators, and that all lands now held for speculative purposes be taxed at their full value.

5. The abrogation of all laws that do not bear equally upon capital and labor, and the removal of unjust technicalities, delays, and discriminations in the administration of justice.

6. The adoption of measures providing for the health and safety of those engaged in mining, manufacturing, and building industries, and for indemnification to those engaged therin for injuries received through lack of necessary safeguards.

7. The recognition by incorporation of trades unions, orders, and such other associations as may be organized by the working masses to improve their condition and protect their rights.

8. The enactment of laws to compel corporations to pay their employees weekly in lawful money for the labor of the preceding week, and giving mechanics and laborers a first lien upon the product of their labor to the extent of their full wages.

9. The abolition of the contract system on national, state, and municipal works.

10. The enactment of laws providing for arbitration between employers and employed, and to enforce the decision of the arbitrators.

11. The prohibition by law of the employment of children under fifteen years of age in workshops, mines and factories.

12. To prohibit the hiring out of convict labor.

13. That a graduated income tax be levied.

And so demand at the hands of Congress:

14. The establishment of a national monetary system, in which a circulating medium in necessary quantity shall issue direct to the people, without the intervention of banks; that all the national issue shall be full legal tender in payment of all debts, public and private; and that the government shall not guarantee or recognize any private banks, or create any banking corporations.

15. That interest-bearing bonds, bills of credit, or notes shall never be issued by the government, but that, when need arises, the emergency shall be met by issue of legal tender, non-interest-bearing money.

16. That the importation of foreign labor under contract be prohibited.

17. That, in connection with the post-office, the government shall organize financial exchanges, safe deposits, and facilities for the deposit of the savings of the people in small sums.

18. That the government shall obtain possession, by purchase, under the right of eminent domain, of all telegraphs, telephones, and railroads, and that hereafter no charter or license be issued to any corporation for construction or operation of any menas of transporting intelligence, passengers or freight.

And while making the foregoing demands upon the State and national government, we will endeavor to associate our own labors to:

19. To establish co-operative institutions, such as will tend to supercede the wage system, by the introduction of a co-operative industrial system.

20. To secure for both sexes equal pay for equal work.

21. To shorten the hours of labor by a general refusal to work for more than eight hours.

22. To persuade employer to agree to arbitrate all differences which may arise between them and their employees, in order that the bonds of sympathy between them may be strengthened, and that strikes may be rendered unnecessary.